Leftwich appeals challenge to Harlingen tax hike

Case claims Boswell violated Open Meetings Act

HARLINGEN — Former City Commissioner Robert Leftwich has appealed a case challenging last year’s 4-cent property tax hike — seven months after a state district judge dismissed it.

Leftwich filed his request with the 13th Court of Appeals after state District Judge Janet Leal dismissed the case last October, ruling she didn’t have legal grounds to hand down a decision.

“I think the appeals court will do more due diligence to establish there is jurisdiction,” Leftwich said, arguing Leal’s court had legal grounds to decide the case.

City Attorney Ricardo Navarro declined comment.

In the case, attorney Ron Lozano, representing Leftwich, argues the tax hike’s void because officials failed to properly follow the state tax code’s requirements.

In his response, Navarro denied the claim.

Last September, commissioners voted to pass the city’s first tax hike in 14 years, pushing the tax rate from 58 to about 63 cents per $100 valuation to raise about $1.3 million a year.

Leftwich said his victory would force the city to cut its tax rate by more than 12 percent.

“If we’re successful, the taxpayers will benefit from a 12-percent reduction in the property tax rate based on the rollback rate,” Leftwich said.

Open Meetings Act claim

As part of his case, Leftwich claims Mayor Chris Boswell violated a new amendment to the Texas Open Meetings Act by denying residents a chance to speak out on the proposed tax hike before the plan went to commissioners for a vote.

Leftwich argues Leal failed to review a city video recording which he says shows Boswell failed to give residents a chance to speak out before commissioners cast their vote.

“The evidence shows he didn’t give the taxpayers opportunity to express their opposition to the historic tax increase and that’s verifiable through the video of the meeting,” Leftwich said.

Boswell did not respond to a request for comment.

Tax Code process

As part of the case, Lozano argues commissioners’ vote is void because officials failed to properly follow the state tax code’s process.

The tax code requires state governments adopt tax rates within 14 days of their final public hearing into the proposals, Lozano said.

Lozano argues commissioners cast their final vote after the 14-day period had expired.

Commissioner Frank Puente cast the lone dissenting vote.

Meanwhile, Navarro argues commissioners’ vote stands because officials followed the state’s requirements.